This Was Once the Most Preposterous Vehicle Known to ManCars . Technology
In 1909, Marcel Leyat, an engineer from the tiny mountain town of Die in southeastern France, designed and built his first airplane. Not long after, he ran out of money. The young engineer had trained in aeronautics, only to find his skillset obsolete in a market controlled by the military; bespoke airplanes were a dying business. Undaunted, Leyat turned his attention to the pursuit of his real dream: building what he called a “plane without wings.”
Or, in other words, a propeller car.
Leyat was far from the only engineer developing an obsession with propeller power at the time, but he may have been the first one who came to the propeller cult directly from a career building airplanes. Leyat believed the aerodynamic design principles that made flight possible could at least make ground vehicles a bit more fuel efficient. Engineers were applying these principles across all kinds of vehicles in France at the time; some briefly anointed propellers as the propulsion method of the future for every imaginable mode of travel.
For five years, Leyat wrestled with propellers and repurposed airplane engines. For his aerocar straight out of steampunk fantasy, Leyat chose a name inspired by the ancient Greek word for spiral, as in helix and helicopter, which was undoubtedly less demonic-sounding to Parisians than to modern English speakers. Pamphlets advertised the “Hélica” or “Helicycle” as a stylish new vehicle designed by the science of the sky: it embodied speed, safety, and elegance, all in a sleek, aerodynamic chassis.